By Shaheen Sehbai Viewpoint.WASHINGTON: As the super large bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan begins the fateful hearing of the NRO on December 7, the writing on the wall is getting clear that Pakistan is quickly entering the post-Zardari phase.
In this scenario either Mr Asif Ali Zardari will ultimately throw in the towel and retire overseas or he will stay bunkered as a lame duck inside the presidency facing public humiliation in the courts, the media and before the people every day.
In both cases the power will shift to the Prime Minister who will then become the focus of the media, the nation and the world. How he delivers will determine where the democratic system goes.
That the noose around Mr Zardari’s neck (this expression should not be taken in physical terms as many do in his camp) is tightening is evident from the panic and desperation inside the presidency where the entire focus is on how to escape the many high-speed freight trains, without working brakes, charging in his direction from many directions. These trains are no fiction or a product of any one’s imagination.
The fact that Mr Zardari got so desperate and cornered that he hit out at some media persons, including me, as a counter attack in his famous address to the uninterested PPP followers at the Mazar of the Quaid-e-Azam, shows that he has no plan and vision to stop these oncoming train wrecks.
The fact that the 007-Geneva operation ordered by Mr Zardari and conducted by an otherwise respected Wajid Shamsul Hasan has left the country with the thought that the gang sitting in Islamabad is on the run and trying to cover up its tracks, cannot be denied.
The fact that the boxes of hard evidence of the Swiss money laundering cases collected in Geneva and airlifted to London the same day have disappeared and no one is ready to own them, despite mute claims by NAB, shows how scared the Zardari camp is fearing the fate which is in store. That these cases may be reopened is a high possibility.
The fact that Zardari’s closest ministers and cronies (Babar Awan for one) are now being publicly named in multi-million rupees scandals, not by the media but by affected parties in the highest courts of the country, shows they will also soon be in the dock inside crowded court rooms, if they do not pay off their way to escape overseas.
The fact that a front-man of Mr Zardari has come on record to state that he had actually bought the Islamabad land years ago and kept it as an “amanat” (sacred trust) of Mr Zardari has confirmed that the president has been involved in such deals but has been hiding behind his political facade. That his involvement is a direct and blatant case of conflict of interest is obvious.
The fact that Zardari’s point-man for Pakistan Steel, infamous business manipulator Riaz Laljee, has escaped from the country and is now enjoying life in Dubai, where he was last seen with the step brother of Mr Zardari, Tuppee (his nick name), in a super latest sports Rolls Royce driven by Tuppee and with three sensational beauties, in front of Dubai’s biggest shopping mall, indicates these guys have made enough money to throw it publicly and worry about no one. That Riaz Laljee was not put on the ECL was also noted by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Choudhry in a recent suo moto case on the Pakistan Steel.
The fact that as the NRO’s fate is decided in coming days and weeks, many more cases challenging the qualification of President Zardari will be filed and heard by the Supreme Court is ominous.
The fact that all the other cronies of Mr Zardari who are not protected by any immunity will have to face the music once the NRO is struck down as a bad law which violated the constitution, ab initio, is already causing panic in the presidential camp and rats are jumping the sinking ship. Dr Asim Hussain of NRB and Petroleum Ministry is the latest example. Laljee has already escaped.
The fact that Zardari’s closest partner Zulfikar Mirza has already launched the Sindh card by picking up the ridiculous non-issue of violation of the sanctity of the Sindhi cap in a Geo TV talk show, shows how bankrupt the presidential camp is to defend itself. Will saving the Sindhi cap, which no one ever wants to desecrate or insult, save Mr Zardari and will Sindh pick up arms to separate from Pakistan for the ajrak or cap, is not even a debatable question.
The fact that the military and civilian establishment has now started dealing full time with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, as the man who is and should run the country, has already put in effect the so-called and dreaded Minus-1 formula in which Mr Zardari stays as a Rafiq Tarar with no direct say in government affairs, or goes away if he is allowed to.
The fact that during his historic Afghan strategy Obama speech and interviews later by Hillary Clinton nowhere was the government or Zardari offered any support or protection, but always it was the democratic system which was mentioned and was to be protected.
The fact is that despite all his political gimmickry and manipulation, Zardari had to sign away his powers to keep the nuclear button under his thumb and the NCA was transferred to the PM. This was a clear message to the presidency that powers could be taken away from him, despite his staying in that fortified palace, no matter what his political standing. The same may happen with the 17th Amendment powers and appointment of services chiefs etc. It is now clear that no one wants to trust or deal with Mr Zardari as a responsible leader of the country.
There may be many more such facts, which have eaten away Mr Zardari’s moral, political and executive authority to call the shots, as he had been doing in the last 18 months. His power tenure is almost over and the country has to move on.
At such a crucial stage enters Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani with full powers. Here lies the most serious challenge to the country’s developing and nascent democratic set-up. Mr Gilani will have to show that he is up to the job and will have to quickly get out of the shadows of Mr Zardari to remove the impression that he was being remote-controlled from the presidency.
For this the script writers already have a sketch of how he should move quickly, if he really wants to save the system and take control. This unwritten script for Mr Gilani could be the ultimate yardstick to judge where Pakistan will go.
Firstly, without losing a day, Mr Gilani will have to get rid of the tainted and corrupt cronies of Mr Zardari from his cabinet. This may be a little unpalatable for the presidency but the PM has to put his foot down.
Then he has to get the 17th Amendment out of his way as quickly as possible and get the PML-N leadership on board in his cabinet, with important portfolios so that the much desired and much needed credibility and consensus, backed by the force of a moral popular authority, is built.
The next task of Mr Gilani would be to let the chips fall where they may by allowing the courts to judge the NRO beneficiaries on their merits, acquit or punish them. Similar should be the case for all cases against the president and if he is disqualified, Mr Gilani should be ready to nominate and get a new president elected, as soon as possible, someone with integrity and having a moral face to provide respect to the system.
The most important task of the PM would be to show good governance and cut corruption. For this he needs the services of the best available, clean and honest, bureaucrats from the civilian and military bureaucracy, whether in active service or retired. He still has a small reservoir of upright and competent civil servants who may be ready to provide stability and vision to his government, despite the pressure of political jugglers sitting as ministers.
The present set-up of challenged bureaucrats has to go immediately with Mrs Nargis Sethi, (nothing against her personally) posted out to an appropriate position but a seasoned, competent and respected officer brought in her place to handle the bureaucracy.
If Mr Gilani does not handle this properly his government will soon fall short of space and then the entire democratic and elected set-up will be attacked by all the hawks in the political, civil and military establishment, saying the politicians are simply incapable of running the country.
Mr Gilani has also to convince Mian Nawaz Sharif to immediately get himself elected to the National Assembly and sit in the Parliament to lend it strength and support. He should be included in top decision-making and a team of experts, technocrats, retired judges, executives and others may be formed on the side as a super think tank to provide the vision and strategic depth to the elected government.
This is critical as Pakistan has to face the new American strategy in Afghanistan, fight off the terrorists at home, control the desperate helplessness of the people who have lost all hope and are being crushed under the burden of spiralling inflation and unemployment. The money flowing into Pakistan has to be spent for the people, in a transparent and effective manner.
Mr Zardari has already wasted his chance to become a national visionary leader who could take the country forward. But as I had stated before he ran for the office of the president, he was just not fit for that job, did not have the capacity to handle or grow into it and he would drown in his own corrupt juices, trying to extricate himself. The more he did that, the more the noose tightened around his neck and he is now about to hang himself. That was a political prediction, which is about to come true in a matter of days or weeks.
But it is now Mr Gilani’s neck on the line and he has to rise and fill the big shoes. He needs the support of all those who want the democratic system to work and the PM has to show vision, tolerance and patience to accommodate all points of view. He has to be upright and transparent in his dealings. Mr Gilani has tons of unwanted debris lying at his doorstep, thanks to Mr Zardari’s tunnel vision, arrogance, corruption and incompetence.